PORTLAND – Some of my profound dining memories involve Japanese restaurants.

Two in particular stand out — a family trip to Toronto when I was a kid, to visit relatives, and a second as an adult to Chicago, also to visit relatives.

Both involved a talented chef with a very sharp knife, and lots of fire, fanfare and showmanship associated with the table-side preparation of our meals.

Based largely on those strong impressions, I’ve always held a certain fondness for Japanese-style dining, no matter how limiting that impression may be. It was with no small measure of satisfaction when I finally discovered Soju, specializing in Japanese and Korean cuisine, has opened on 511 Congress Street, just across the street from the Port City Music Hall.

I will confess up front that I did not try the sushi, sashimi or maki. I am not opposed to sushi necessarily, but it was not an option for me on the day of my visit. Instead, because I wanted to make my lunch quick and not expensive, I opted for chicken breast teriyaki ($7.50) from the Japanese side of the menu and kimchi bokum, a pan fried pork, from the Korean side ($8.50).

Both were satisfying, but I far preferred the chicken teriyaki. Served over a bed of steamed white rice and a healthy mix of carrots and sprouts, the tender chicken tasted sweet and slightly sesame — subtle and not overwhelming.

The kimchi pork was a bit more harsh and spicy. I enjoyed the pork, and especially liked the kimchi, a vegetable side dish. But I did not finish either, perhaps reflecting on my diminished appetite owing to rapid consumption of the chicken. I boxed it up and brought it home for leftovers.

The menu is vast. Even at lunch, there are dozens of choices of sushi, and Soju offers an array of seafood dishes that might be tempting at dinner, including Maine roll — a lobster and avocado concoction for $12 that sounds enticing.

Soju is comfortable enough. It’s certainly not fancy, but its deep red walls and faux chandeliers score points for trying.

Soju occupies a nondescript space on Congress Street, set back off the street by a brick plaza across from the downtown CVS. Those of us who live and work downtown have walked by this building countless times over the years, and likely paid it little attention.

In a previous life this place was occupied by a sandwich shop chain and at least one other eating establishment. Soju gives us a reason to pay attention.


The Features staff of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram anonymously samples meals for about $7.